Collection of tributes full of fun moments from blues guitarist
‘Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites’ (Shout Factory) Grade: B
Iconic Texas guitarslinger Jimmie Vaughan walked away with the Grammy for best traditional blues recording for 2001’s ‘Do You Get The Blues?’ and rightfully so. Its laconic, slow-burning grooves made a strong case for Vaughan as the proper modern descendant of the genre’s three kings — Albert, Freddie and B.B. — with Vaughan’s dry vocals and retro-cool aesthetic seasoning of 11 deeply satisfying cuts of prime blues beef.
Following up such a career best — a perfect synthesis of Vaughan’s own charms and the influences of six-string pioneers like Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson — would prove challenging for anybody, even one of Austin’s most-respected blues statesmen.
Which might explain why ‘Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites’ feels less like a proper follow-up and more like an awfully fun digression. After 2007’s collaborative album with Omar Kent Dykes, ‘On the Jimmy Reed Highway,’ Vaughan again returns to the tribute well, this time with 12 diverse covers from died-too-young R&B favorite Johnny Ace to Willie Nelson and one original instrumental.
The results are loose and casually charming, but the album rarely hits the notes of studied intensity that define Vaughan at his best.
Vaughan’s guitar saddles up with a pristine juke-joint take on Billy Emerson’s ‘The Pleasure’s All Mine’ before he joins with the smoky, stillseductive voice of Lou Ann Barton on Jimmy Reed’s ‘Come Love,’ the first of many duets. Barton’s voice doesn’t cut quite as deep as it did on her similar guest appearances on ‘Do You Get The Blues?’ She shines, though, when cut loose on lead vocals, ripping into ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Send Me Some Lovin’ ’ with obvious relish. And the album’s array of guest stars bring their best, from blistering tenor solos from Greg Picollo to the invaluable trumpet of Continental Club mainstay Ephraim Owens. Vaughan’s choice of material rarely pushes his skills to their limit, but he performs nobly on straightforward cuts like Roy Milton’s ‘RM Blues.’ Even when ‘Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites’ sounds like it could have used more money, more polish or more time in the studio, it rarely sounds like it needed more love.